Federal regulators have opened an investigation into Tesla after a former employee alleged the company failed to notify the public and shareholders about potential fire risks related to solar panels.
Reuters news service first reported Monday that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the Austin-based automaker. Tesla did not respond to Reuters questions, according to the news service.
Steven Henkes, a former Tesla employee who worked as a solar field quality manager, filed the complaint in 2019. Henkes was fired in 2020 and sued Tesla, alleging he was dismissed for retaliation. CNBC reported in March that the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission was also investigating the complaints.
Henkes, who worked as a quality engineer, alleged that Tesla did not tell shareholders about the liability and exposure to property damage, fire and injury of users and that the company failed to tell customers the defective electrical connectors could lead to fires.
News of the SEC investigation comes just days after Tesla formally made Austin its corporate headquarters. Tesla's corporate address is now on the same site as the $1.1 billion manufacturing facility it is building in southeastern Travis County, Texas.
CEO Elon Musk announced at an October shareholder meeting that Tesla was relocating its headquarters from California to Austin, Texas.
The company's solar business is separate from its car business. Tesla Energy, the clean energy subsidiary of Tesla, develops photovoltaic solar energy generation systems, battery energy storage products and other solar energy products for residential, industrial and commercial use.
Tesla's energy-related ventures have been increasingly putting down roots in Texas. In November, Tesla Energy Ventures was approved to be a retail electric provider. Another Tesla subsidiary, Gambit Energy Storage, has been quietly building a mega-battery in Angleton, near Houston, capable of powering 20,000 homes on a summer day. Tesla has also partnered with a management company and real estate developer to build the first Tesla solar neighborhood in Austin, with solar and alternative powered features fueled by Tesla technology.
Henkes, the former Tesla employee who filed the complaint, initially worked for SolarCity, which Tesla acquired in 2016. His duties changed following the acquisition, during which he noticed the widespread problem and alerted Tesla management to shut down the fire-prone systems, report it to regulators and notify consumers, the complaint said. He said Telsa told consumers that it needed to conduct maintenance on the panel system to avoid problems that could shut down the system, but did not warn of fire risks.
In a wrongful termination lawsuit filed last year against Tesla Energy, Henkes alleged that more than 60,000 residential customers in the U.S. and 500 government and commercial accounts were affected by the issue.
Tesla is separately being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over issues with its vehicles' autopilot system. The agency is investigating a number of crashes that took place when the advanced driver assistance system was engaged.
The NHTSA opened the investigation in August following about a dozen reports of Teslas crashing into emergency vehicles that led to 17 people injured and one killed. The investigation covers almost all Tesla vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2014. after getting reports of a dozen crashes into emergency vehicles.
In November, Tesla also issued a recall after a full self-driving software update pushed out in late October was found to have a glitch in the software that led to some cars stopping for no reason. Tesla sent out a software update fixing the problem, which affected about 12,000 cars.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Musk pushed autopilot technology despite engineers' objections and concerns related to using only cameras instead of cameras, radar and lidar.©2021 Gannett Co., Inc. Visit at statesman.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.